This is the second in a four-part series stemming from the Executive Education Forum on the Future of Business Leadership that took place on November 15, 2018. Panelists included Stephen Bye, CEO and President of C Spire; Margaret Cupples, Partner with Bradley Law Firm; Haley Fisackerly, CEO of Entergy Mississippi; and Cathy Northington, COO of Mississippi Economic Council.
In this blog, we'll explore the answers to one of the questions faced by every leader of every organization. With an increasing rate of change in the workplace, people are forced to move into leadership positions more quickly. As a result, identifying the competencies we seek or seek to develop in our emerging leaders is critical. I have taken the liberty of summarizing some of the panelists' thoughts and identifying some critical competencies that emerged from their conversation.
Kim Burke, PhD
Dean of the Else School of Management
Professor of Accounting
The Executive Education program of the Else School of Management recently hosted a Forum on the Future of Leadership, an opportunity to talk with leaders in our state about advancing leadership in the state. The panelists for this Forum included Stephen Bye, CEO and President of C Spire; Margaret Cupples, Partner of Bradley Law Firm; Haley Fisackerly, CEO of Entergy Mississippi; and Cathy Northington, COO of the Mississippi Economic Council. Phil Hardwick served as moderator. Over the next four-part series, I will provide some summary and commentary based on the insights of these leaders.
As we were planning the panel for the Forum on the Future of Leadership, we were fortunate to have a number of leaders in Mississippi from which we could choose. And, it was interesting to consider what made these men and women leaders in our state. Phil Hardwick prompted me to think more deeply about the enormity of the concept of leadership. He pointed out that if you search for the term "leadership" in books on Amazon, you get over 70,000 results. These books often offer definitions of leadership, many of which come from some of our more well known experts who either research or are leaders. Here are just a few:
There are certainly more definitions to offer, but what struck me as more important than an eloquent articulation was the common spirit captured in these quotes. That spirit includes the ideas that 1) leadership is not bestowed, but earned, 2) leadership requires influence to encourage others, and 3) leadership requires action. I found myself thinking about the many leaders in this state. I recognize our leaders as those who daily work with limited resources to create opportunities for community building, community service and advancement of the state. Our best leaders earn their place; they care for and empower others; and they move us forward. And, we are thankful for them.
Kim Burke, PhD
Dean of the Else School of Management
Professor of Accounting
"I'm always fascinated by the way our brains are hard-wired to simplify the complex while also protecting our egos. For managers or team members of an organization, one of the most complex issues we have to deal with involves working with each other and figuring out how to improve the team, improve the outcomes and meet or exceed expectations of the organization. Sometimes, though, our brain's hard-wiring to simplify takes a shortcut that leads to flawed thinking. The shortcut I'm thinking about today is fundamental attribution error.
We've all experienced it, that moment where we mistake a situational effect for a character flaw. We think our boss "doesn't listen" because he or she is checking the phone during a meeting, when what we don't know is that the boss is waiting for a call about a very sick family member. Maybe a coworker cuts us off in conversation leaving us to think "what a rude jerk" when, in fact, that coworker was informed earlier that she had to finish a report for her boss immediately. Or, perhaps more dangerously, we observe a member of our sales team not selling as much product, or our accounting team processing payments more slowly, and we reach the conclusion that these team members are not good at their jobs. Unfortunately, we tend to share those thoughts with others in the organization and can easily build some consensus without understanding that our sales team is facing significant drops in demand for the product due to a lower-priced, well-advertised competitor's product, or that our accounting team has just taken on new responsibilities with a reduced number of staff. Our shared perceptions then make it even more difficult for our boss, coworker, sales team, or accountants to act productively and meet expectations.
The "boss who's not listening" or the "rude jerk coworker" can communicate in ways that improve how others perceive them and their actions. But, we've all been in those situations where managing someone else's perceptions of us is not our priority, and we should have the right to expect some leeway from our coworkers. What's also interesting about fundamental attribution error is that when we are the ones who don't listen, act like a jerk or fall behind in performance, we are quick to point out that it's not a character flaw but the situation that led to these actions and results.
It's a fine line for any manager or team member to distinguish between those issues that arise due to situations that can and should be changed versus those that are character driven. And, the further removed we are from the situation, the harder it is to make that distinction. Make no mistake, though, the problem is not always situational. We just need to be cautious and remember that our immediate response is often to assume a character flaw when considering the behavior of others. We can't attract and keep our best employees and build our best teams if only our behaviors are attributable to the situation.
Kim Burke, PhD
Dean of the Else School of Management
Professor of Accounting
"I think we should hire Mary," Jim told us. We all looked at each other. Jim was our boss, and we all respected him. But none of us understood what he saw in Mary as the director for our new Employee Assistance Program. "She's so enthusiastic," he said, adding, "I think she could sell this Employee Assistance Program to our CEO." When I interviewed Mary, she talked so much I couldn't squeeze in my questions. I wondered if she would be able to listen to employees who came to her office. You can't listen if you're always talking!
It's not unusual for people to disagree about who the best candidate is for a job opening. Over the years, we each develop our own set of filters through which we view the world, and that includes job candidates. Our perceptions are affected by our experiences, values, biases, personality…even our mood! We tend to focus on information that confirms our preexisting beliefs and ignore whatever is incongruent. It's not intentional; it's human.
It's not just misperceptions that can lead us astray as we evaluate job candidates. Most candidates are using impression management techniques to influence how we perceive them. They use professional dress, direct eye contact, a firm handshake and enthusiastic demeanor to communicate competence and confidence. We've all done it! It is not enough to be competent; job applicants must also appear to be competent to get the job offer. Some people are very good at appearing competent even when they are not.
As employers, we have to learn to cut through the facade and figure out who the truly qualified candidates are. It is nearly impossible to determine who the best candidate is among a large pool of applicants, but we can use tools to identify those who are qualified. Unfortunately, the favorite method used to assess candidates is also the least reliable: the unstructured interview. Our biases can go wild when we use informal settings and off-the-cuff questions to assess job candidates. Instead, we should carefully craft our interviews, asking the same set of questions to each candidate. Behavioral and situational questions are better predictors of performance than informational questions. Behavioral questions ask candidates to give specific examples of past performance, such as "Tell me about a time when you were a team leader and one of your members did not meet expected standards." Situational questions are those that describe a likely job scenario and require candidates to suggest a course of action. These type of questions are much more informative and harder to fake than questions such as "Tell me about yourself," or "What are your career goals?" An even better indicator of job competence is to have the candidates perform job tasks that they will actually do on the job.
When it comes to making a hiring decision, it's hard to predict the future. What you can do is structure the selection process to improve your chances of hiring a qualified candidate.
Diane Baker, PhD
Professor of Management
Else School of Management
Over the summer, I read Ray Dalio's book, Principles. Dalio is the retired CEO and founder of Bridgewater Associates, which has about $150 billion under management for its clients. In his book, Dalio describes the essential elements upon which Bridgewater is built. He calls them "radical transparency" and "radical truthfulness" wrapped in a meritocratic organization. What he means by "radical transparency" is, with very few exceptions, everyone either knows or is free to know everything about the business. By "radical truthfulness" he means that everyone is expected to always be completely honest about their points of view about all facets of Bridgewater's business and express them, within the bounds of civility, at all times. No secrets, no unspoken grievances, no hidden misgivings. For Dalio, truthfulness is not the opposite of duplicities or deceitfulness. He simply means, to use the words of the late Howard Cosell, "telling it like it is."
You may think practicing radical transparency and truthfulness would stifle interpersonal work relationships and productivity. Dalio finds exactly the opposite. It is liberating and affirms everyone's value and gives hearing to everyone's ideas. It unshackles, rather than handcuffs, creativity and creates a common sense of purpose and personal responsibility.
Dalio principles are, in effect, rules everyone at Bridgewater uses when making decisions. Occasionally new issues arise, what Dalio calls "we haven't seen this before" events. Once the issue is successfully resolved, new principles for dealing with similar, future events are created. So more and more issues become "we've seen this before" events and they are handled routinely.
He recognizes that not everyone, or even many people, choose to adapt to Bridgewater's culture. Those who don't aren't around long; they either leave voluntarily or are terminated. Dalio says Bridgewater goes to extremes to help both new and old employees who are struggling, either with the culture or the skill requirements of their jobs. Only when he and employees are "radically truthful" with each other can those who are temperamentally disposed to adapt to Bridgewater's culture make the adjustments necessary to succeed.
Regardless of how radical transparency and truthfulness strike you, Dailo points to the fact that following the principles has made Bridgewater a giant and made many people rich, including Dalio himself. By the way, he started from a very modest beginning and nearly failed at several points early on. So Bridgewater and Dalio succeeded by being very good at what they do. He attributes Bridgewater's success to its meritocracy and radical truthfulness and transparency.
A Bridgewater-like culture isn't for everyone or every organization, which Dailo is quick to admit. However, perhaps if more organizations were more transparent and more truthful in all their dealings, we'd all be better off. So, more transparency, more truthfulness, please. A word of warning, though, radical transparency and truthfulness does not exempt those of you in the "C suite." It means everyone, perhaps most importantly you.
Patrick Taylor, PhD
Associate Professor of Economics
Else School of Management
Wells Fargo has become a great cautionary tale of how unethical behavior (and particularly unethical leadership) can poison company culture and damage a company's reputation and performance. Let's recap:
Wells Fargo has had to pay millions in fines and settlements and their recent advertising campaigns strive to rebuild trust with customers. So, what can we learn from the Wells Fargo debacle?
So, could your business ever go the way of Wells Fargo? Keeping a close eye on your compensation system—what are you incentivizing?—and conducting culture audits to see what values your employees are enacting are two ways to keep your company on the right path.
Assistant Professor of Management
Else School of Management
The curse of knowledge is a cognitive bias that makes it difficult to remember what it was like not to know something that you now know. This can cause us to assume our audience has the same knowledge and perspective that we have making it difficult to communicate in terms that our audience can relate to.
I was struck several years ago by the curse when I received a call from someone struggling with a computer issue. I clearly guided him to reboot his PC and to continuously hit F8 as his PC booted up. I waited patiently on the phone as he followed my instruction anticipating the PC would boot into Safe mode. Unfortunately, after several attempts, he could not get his PC into Safe mode.
Confident my instructions were accurate, I asked him to try it again. I know he was getting frustrated as I could hear what sounded like muffled machine gun fire as he banged away at the keyboard. Finally, he asked me, "When I am hitting F8, do I hit the F key and then the 8 key or do I hit them at the same time?"
I was speechless. Instead of hitting the single F8 function key, he had been hitting the F key and the 8 key. Once I explained that there was an F8 function key at the top of the keyboard, all was well and we ultimately fixed the issue. In this case, I failed to consider that my knowledge was different from the knowledge of my audience.
So next time you are preparing for an upcoming presentation or a crucial conversation with someone, take time to consider the curse of knowledge and try the following quick tips to avoid the curse.
If we are not aware of or do not make a conscious effort to avoid the curse of knowledge, it is likely that no matter how confident we feel our message was delivered, our audience will have a different view and our message may miss the mark. Be open to learn new communication techniques to increase your communication effectiveness. When possible, ask for feedback to see if your method and message are resonating with your listener.
In order to communicate effectively, you must know your audience. Knowing your audience helps you avoid assumptions and allows you to better understand their perspective and level of knowledge. Avoid unfamiliar jargon and use concise concrete language that resonates with your audience.
Tell stories and use examples to provide context and texture to your message. Stories and examples that the audience can relate to provide credibility and helps your message resonate. Telling stories promotes better engagement with the audience and takes advantage of our brain's natural tendency to remember narratives.
President, Multicraft Ventures
Millsaps now offers an Advanced Applied Leadership Program (AALP), a set of classes designed to “guide, grow, and shape the leadership team of your business.” Being a member of the AALP introductory cohort has been amazing. New connections, different topics, guest speakers, coaching sessions and required readings have added to my leadership development. A favorite session was Building and Leading Teams. We read the Harvard Business Review article “High Performance Teams Need Psychological Safety. Here’s How to Create It” by Laura Delizonna (August 24, 2017). Who knew, there is a name for the kind of environment I strive to create as a leader. As a leader I know that there is no “I” in team; I am responsible for my team and I have to get my hands dirty. Finally, someone gets it.
Before giving birth to my youngest child, I would garden. Going to the store to purchase the items was critical. Selecting the right flowers and getting the dirt and fertilizer were important steps in the process. I could spend hours at the store. Once home the real work started. Preparing the section of land took time because I did not use a tiller. My tools of choice were a shovel and a hoe, plus hard work. Straight lines for the display; digging up the grass; feeling the dirt in my hands; placing the flowers perfectly; putting the fertilizer down; watering the flowers and finally taking in the beauty of my labor.
Creating a psychological safe environment is like gardening. Learning about staff individually, hearing their thoughts about issues, and giving them permission to have a voice are key. After talking with my staff, I decided to take some time out of each month to spend time together as a group. I was interested in providing a safe space in order to help develop them. Our meetings were coined Therapist Talks. This time was structured in a way that they were able to develop and share goals, start working towards them, and understand self-care and how to achieve it.
Creating a psychologically safe environment takes a great deal of maturity as a leader. You have to allow yourself to become vulnerable with your team. Creating a risk taking environment allowed us to grow. I believe that providing this environment allowed for clients to get the level of services needed.
I have long left that team, but our Therapist Talks made a lasting effect on them. Staff members reach out to let me know about the goals that they have accomplished, be it finding a new job, using their voice as a tool, earning another degree or learning a new skill. I feel confident that providing that space for them and investing time in them actually filled their cups and gave them the permission to go forth.
My ideas are confirmed; I had to create the atmosphere in order for trust to form to prepare for growth. Through creating a psychological safe environment our team operated like a well-oiled machine both professionally and personally.
Talya Straughter, DPC, LPC, NCC, BC-TMH
Owner, Talya Straughter, DPC, LPC, Inc.
We know Emotional Intelligence (EI or EQ) when we see it, even if we’re unfamiliar with the term. Witness the colleague who can “keep her head when all about her are losing theirs and blaming it on her”; or the middle manager who gains cooperation for an important initiative from his peers over whom he has no formal authority. Contrast these examples with the genius employee who is also an “interpersonal disaster,” or the boss who trumpets an open-door policy, only to bring the roof down on anyone unfortunate enough to walk through it.
Daniel Goleman, an early researcher on the concept, defines Emotional Intelligence as “the capacity for recognizing our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves and for managing emotions well in ourselves and in our relationships.” Here are the four domains and corresponding competencies that describe Emotional Intelligence:
The research on Emotional Intelligence is extensive and, among its many findings, two stand out:
How do you improve EQ?
It starts with self-awareness. Know where you stand on each of the EI competencies. Performance reviews, or, if available, a formal multi-rater (360-degree feedback) assessment, are good places to start, but may not offer enough specificity on where and how to direct your EI improvement efforts. Instead, consider a tool like The Social and Emotional Intelligence Profile (SEIP)—a robust instrument focused specifically on the respondent’s Emotional Intelligence (Deirdre Danahar, co-leader of the Advanced Applied Leadership Program at Millsaps, is a trusted source to consult for its administration and interpretation).
A less rigorous, but helpful resource is the book Emotional Intelligence 2.0. Before you read it, however, take the online assessment (the link comes with your purchased copy) and then use the results to guide your reading. You can also re-take the assessment at no cost at a future date to determine improvement over time.
Getting an objective baseline, whether through formal assessment tools, performance appraisal, or informal feedback helps you specify and prioritize the competencies you want to improve. Next, look for situations where you can practice applying the competency. Be intentional. Prepare and don’t wing it. Finally, leverage your success by forming an alliance with someone you trust who can observe you and give good feedback.
There is no downside to investing in Emotional Intelligence. Even the Ancient Greeks thought it was important. Virtue and genius were inseparable to them as Eric Weiner notes in The Geography of Genius. Hubris—a telltale sign of low EQ—would prevent the most brilliant philosopher or architect from earning the title “genius.” Moreover, one particular god was chosen to enact retribution against the hubristic. Her name was Nemesis.
President of Charles E Sampson & Associates
Organization and Human Resource Development Consultancy
Is the cost of a college education a good financial investment? That’s the question.
Here are some statistics that show the average annual earnings for 40- to 44-year-old full-time workers in the U.S. by various levels of education.
Did Not Graduate from High School: $31,628
High School Graduate with No College: $53,211
Bachelor’s Degree: $87,550
Master’s Degree: $107,268
The average worker with a bachelor’s degree earns $87,550 annually. The average worker with only a high school degree earns $53,211 annually. That’s a difference of $34,339 per year. If we assume that the average worker will work 40 years over their lifetime, that’s a difference in total earnings of $1,373,560 in favor of the college graduate.
Now, because I am a finance professor, I would like to know the present value of this differential earnings stream. So, using a 2% annual growth rate of earnings and a 3% discount rate (30-year Treasury Bond Yield), I find that the present value of the differential earnings stream between a college grad and a high school grad is $1,116,379.
This means that if your college education cost less than $1,116,379, you will have made a good financial investment. I think most college educations cost much less than $1,116,379, and therefore college education is usually a very good financial investment. I hasten to point out that I am aware of many non-financial benefits derived from a good education—all good topics for future blogs.
The data shown above is provided by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This data also show differences in earnings based on race, gender, and age; and may in fact, illustrate biases in the workplace—all good topics for future blogs.
But for now, one thing is certain; there exists an education bias in the workplace.
Bill Brister, PhD
Assistant Professor of Finance
Else School of Management
"If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound?"
Working with clients and participants in my Community Enrichment Series classes at Millsaps College, I ask this question often. It may seem like a strange thing to pose to small business owners, but in the social media world, the analogy is everything.
If you aren't telling your story aloud, how do you expect anyone else to know about it? Most people I know aren’t mind readers.
In class, I often refer to ripple effects. In digital media, it is about creating waves. Likes. Shares. Comments. Influence.
When I ask students how they can create ripple effects, the immediate reaction I get is “posting multiple times a day.” But, is that the answer?
In short, no. Quite the opposite. Because communication is more cluttered than ever before, you must be strategic. Posting less and engaging more helps you create higher quality content, pay attention to what your audience really wants from you, grow your community quicker, and establish you as an expert in your industry.
One of the largest missed opportunities I see is this lack of collaboration and engagement. Yes, you want to get information to the masses, but if you aren’t keeping the “social” in social media, your platforms are nothing more than alternative news silos.
There are ways to change this. Tag relevant accounts in your posts—albeit, this does not give you license to spam. When announcing a partnership, tag the partnering organization. Are you hosting an event with other organizations or have sponsors of your events? Tag them! Find peers on social media and engage with their posts in a supportive way. Do you encourage customers to ask you a question on a post or through private message? Respond—quickly.
Current expectations around response time are one hour or less. While 84% of users expect a response within 24 hours, 72% of users expect a response in under 60 minutes. Sprout Social found that 48% of survey respondents valued a quick response on social media above any other action a brand could take. (Yikes!) Put yourself in the shoes of your customers. When you submit an issue to a company, how quickly do you expect a response? This means someone must be ready to answer questions as they arise. Not just 8–5. At night. On weekends. Rapid response time is the new normal. Turn those notifications on.
Social media management is much more than posting pretty photos. What it takes is claiming your story, breaking through the noise, being consistent, and engaging to create community.
For anyone working in a mid-to-large company with aspirations of getting to the top, advice is easy to find. Amazon has endless titles that sound like Strategies for Career Advancement and promise “12 Steps to Success!” or “Your Dream Job in 90 Days.” Alternately, your cousin Frank would be delighted to bend your ear about how he made Senior Vice President back in 1987. Or you could spend a few thousand traveling to a seminar where a loud, excitable career coach exhorts an adoring audience to achieve greatness.
Let’s skip all that and focus on one deceptively simple, easily misunderstood, and nearly foolproof strategy for climbing the corporate ladder:
If you want the next job up, act like you already have it.
Ok, there are a few caveats and clarifications, but still, pretty simple.
Let’s start here: exactly what do I mean by saying “act like you already have it”? Pretend you literally have the title on a plaque by your desk. Take personal responsibility every day for that larger scope of work. Often that means taking a bigger view of the company’s purpose, or its role in the lives of your clients. See more of the forest and less of the individual trees. Comport yourself like a leader.
Oh, but you say—that’s a lot of extra work for no extra pay. True, at first you become a major bargain for your company, but who hasn’t had to prove themselves before getting rewarded? That’s capitalism. That’s life. Instead, think of this as a power move. While most people are passive and wait for someone else to anoint them, you are taking charge.
Another possible objection: you have a boss or co-worker who will feel threatened by your new attitude. Well, not if you handle this right. “Act like you already have the next job” doesn’t mean to be bossy or difficult with the people around you. It doesn’t give you the right to measure someone else’s office for your furniture. Powerful leaders can be effective with a surprising degree of humility. And your boss will probably love that you just made her job easier.
Give yourself that promotion and act the part, and inevitably the corporation will notice, get used to you having that role and officially give it to you. Depending on the responsiveness of your company and their degree of need, that may happen in weeks, months, or years. But in the large majority of cases, it will happen. And if, despite everything, it’s clear you’re at a truly dead-end place, then yes, you’ll have to move on. But at least you got some powerful practice for your next opportunity.
Executive Creative Director
The Ramey Agency
We are back! Last year, the Else School of Management launched its first weekly blog series authored by faculty, staff, alumni and friends, all of whom called on their considerable business experience to help build a 51-week series (we did take Christmas week off). With the goal of providing a virtual home for resources to help address work and career-related issues, our authors consistently delivered thoughtful, insightful and practical articles. And our social media analytics suggest that our followers are interested in even more.
For those of you new to the series or the business school, here’s a quick primer on the Else School of Management. The Else School is dedicated to serving our students, the business community and the community-at-large by providing excellent instruction, engaging with our corporate and community partners and convening important conversations about business and leadership. The School is accredited by AACSB International and offers undergraduate degrees in business, accounting, and economics as well as graduate degrees such as the Masters’ of Accountancy, Masters’ of Business Administration and Executive MBA. Last year, we introduced a new executive education program dedicated to increasing the level of leadership competence in the state. This robust program continues to flourish as we grow the development opportunities for mid to upper-level executives and establish our position as the leadership resource for Mississippi
In the coming weeks, you can look forward to informative and useful conversations that improve your business experience. You may recognize some of our authors, and we will introduce you to some new contributors along the way. Either way, you can expect coverage of a wide range of topics that reflect the best practices of business and leadership. And, as always, feel free to engage with us through social media.
On behalf of the Else School, its alumni and friends, welcome to the Else Executive Series! We hope you enjoy the series, and we look forward to hearing from you!.
Kim Burke, PhD
Dean of the Else School of Management
Professor of Accounting